9 Facts About My Neighbor Totoro

© 1988 Studio Ghibli
© 1988 Studio Ghibli

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those rare films that both children and adults find enchanting. The Studio Ghibli production, which was written and directed by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, debuted in Japan in 1988 under the title Tonari no Totoro before making its way to the U.S.

The English dubbed version features real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning as the voices of sisters Satsuki and Mei, who uncover a world of forest spirits and curious creatures when they move to the Japanese countryside with their father. Here are some things you might not know about this magical movie.

1. The idea for the film was initially rejected.

Hayao Miyazaki has been called the “Walt Disney of Japan” for his impressive oeuvre, which includes Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Academy Award-winning Spirited Away (2001). However, Miyazaki was still making a name for himself back in the early '80s, and his initial pitch for My Neighbor Totoro was rejected by the Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co.

Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki tried again in 1987, but the financiers and distribution executives “didn’t think the furry giant could take off, literally or figuratively,” wrote Maureen Furniss in Animation: Art and Industry. “Distributors simply didn’t believe there was an audience for a story about two little girls and a monster in modern Japan.”

The setting—rural Japan in the 1950s—was also problematic. Miyazaki's previous feature films were set in fictional or unidentified places, and My Neighbor Totoro was the first one to take place in Japan. "Back then, a story without a hero or a girl with superpowers, and the ordinary Japanese scenery as a backdrop, was not considered entertaining enough," Miyazaki said in an interview featured in the 30th anniversary edition Blu-ray. "Entertainment back then was all about guns, action, and speed. I wanted my movie to be peaceful, tranquil, and innocent. I wanted to create that kind of world. Also, I wanted to prove that a movie like this could be successful.”

2. It was a box office flop.

In order to win over financiers, Suzuki suggested that My Neighbor Totoro be shown alongside another Studio Ghibli film—Grave of the Fireflies—as a double feature. The latter film was being backed by publisher Shinchosha, which at the time was more established than Tokuma Shoten, the publisher that funded My Neighbor Totoro. This idea was ultimately approved, and the two films premiered together in 1988. My Neighbor Totoro didn't become a commercial success until it made its way to Japanese television, though.

"Out of all the movies made by Ghibli, Totoro had the worst opening box office," Suzuki said in the anniversary DVD. "A year later, it aired on TV. When it aired on NTV, the ratings went off the chart.”

3. Totoro is a mispronunciation of the Japanese word for troll.

Totoro and Mei
© 1988 Studio Ghibli

The word for troll is pronounced tororu in Japanese, which sounds similar to what Mei calls the fluffy forest creature she encounters. When Mei tells her sister what she saw, Satsuki asks if she’s talking about the troll in one of their books, and Mei nods. This doesn’t make quite as much sense in English (because troll and Totoro sound different), but it starts to come together when the movie’s closing credits roll. Their mother can be seen reading them the fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff, which, if you recall, contains a troll character. For this reason, it’s believed to be the book that Mei refers to. However, as Miyazaki wrote in The Art of My Neighbor Totoro, "[Totoro] is the name that our protagonist, the four-year-old Mei, gives these creatures. No one knows what their real name is."

4. The film's setting was inspired by the beautiful area where Miyazaki lived.

The movie is set about an hour's drive from Tokyo in Sayama Hills, Tokorozawa, where Miyazaki owns a home. Miyazaki frequently strolled around the town and took in the lush scenery, which inspired much of the film's backdrop. "If I didn't live in Tokorozawa, Totoro would never have been born," Suzuki quoted Miyazaki as saying, according to Comicbook.com. The area is now nicknamed "Totoro Forest," and fans can visit a Totoro statue inside the House of Kurosuke, which looks similar to the one featured in the movie.

5. Some scenes were nearly removed for the U.S. market.

In one scene in the film, Mei, Satsuki, and their father are seen bathing together in a large round tub. U.S. companies wanted to remove this scene—and another showing the girls jumping on tatami mats—because they felt they “were unlikely to be understood by American audiences,” according to Furniss. However, Studio Ghibli insisted on keeping the movie as is, with no edits.

6. Fans have noticed similarities to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The cat bus with the two sisters from the movie
© 1988 Studio Ghibli

Viewers have noticed a few uncanny similarities between My Neighbor Totoro and Lewis Carroll’s fantastical 1865 novel (which was later animated by Disney in 1951). The scene of Mei running after a small, white Totoro and ultimately falling down a hole inside the camphor tree brings to mind the famous chase and rabbit hole imagery in Alice in Wonderland. Some have also drawn comparisons between the Catbus and the Cheshire Cat’s grin, but Miyazaki denied modeling it after Carroll's character.

"I do like the Cheshire Cat, but there’s no influence from it," Miyazaki said in the anniversary DVD. "When I had to come up with some kind of monster bus, I thought about the shape-shifting cat from Japanese folklore, so I just made a cat shape-shift into a bus. And that was that.”

7. Studio Ghibli has debunked some of the darker fan theories.

According to different variations of the same fan theory, Mei is actually dead in the movie and Totoro is the God of Death. Proponents of this theory point to different “clues,” like the fact that a sandal is found in a pond (suggesting that Mei drowned) and the absence of shadows in a scene toward the end of the movie when the two sisters are seen together. Others have said the movie is based on The Sayama Incident, an urban legend involving the deaths of two sisters from Sayama Hills. However, Studio Ghibli released a statement to put these theories to rest.

“Everyone, do not worry,” Studio Ghibli reportedly said. “There’s absolutely no truth [to the theory] that Totoro is the God of Death or that Mei is dead in My Neighbor Totoro.” The actual explanation for the lack of shadows is more mundane: The animators simply didn’t deem shadows necessary for the scene in question, according to the studio.

8. Shinto philosophy underscores the movie.

Subtle allusions to Shinto, an ancient animistic belief in which nature is revered in all its forms, are sprinkled throughout the film. According to this philosophy, everything has a spirit. In one scene, Mei and Satsuki's father tells them that trees and humans used to be friends long ago. He tells the girls to give the big tree in their backyard a "nice greeting," then bows to it and thanks it for protecting Mei. Of course, most central to the story is Totoro himself, who can be interpreted as the spirit of the forest.

9. Totoro has a cameo in Toy Story 3.

My Neighbor Totoro’s influence has been far-reaching—so much so that the titular character has appeared in TV series and films beyond Studio Ghibli. He was worked into episodes of South Park, The Powerpuff Girls, and Bob’s Burgers (well, sort of). Perhaps most famously, he was one of the toys in Toy Story 3. While it looks like we won’t ever get a sequel to My Neighbor Totoro, at least we can enjoy these playful extensions of the Ghibli universe.

Disney's Most Magical Destinations Have Been Reimagined as Vintage Travel Posters

UpgradedPoints.com
UpgradedPoints.com

Many of the iconic settings of animated Disney movies were modeled after real places around the world. Ussé Castle in France’s Loire Valley, for example, is widely rumored to have been the inspiration behind the original Sleeping Beauty story. (Although the castle in the movie more closely resembles Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle.) Likewise, the fictional island in Moana was made to look like Samoa, and the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin shares some similarities with India's Taj Mahal.

If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring Agrabah or Neverland, then you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in these Disney-inspired travel posters from the designers at UpgradedPoints.com, an online resource that helps individuals maximize their credit card travel rewards. Only one of the posters features a real destination ("Beautiful France"), but these illustrations let you get one step closer to scaling Pride Rock or plumbing the depths of Atlantica.

All of the images are rendered in a vintage style with enticing slogans attached—much like the exotic travel posters that were prevalent in the 1930s.

“A few of our designers wanted to capture that longing to experience the true locations of these fantastic films, and the inner child in all of us couldn’t resist seeing how they interpreted the locations of their favorite films,” UpgradedPoints.com writes. “The results are breathtaking and make us wish we could fall into our favorite Disney movies.”

Keep scrolling to see the posters, and for more travel inspiration, read up on eight real-life locations that inspired Disney places (plus one that didn't).

A Disney-inspired poster of France
UpgradedPoints.com

An Atlantica travel poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Disney-inspired poster
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A Lion King travel poster
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A Neverland travel poster
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11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

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